Gardener rewarded with summer bounty

#538 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 2007, Hills Newspapers

At the garden show in San Francisco this spring I bought many wonderful things. Lily bulbs, scabiosa and nicotiana plants and lots and lots of dahlia tubers. Anet went with me and helped me get my hoard home. She figured out ahead of time how to wheel around the maximum load on a luggage cart outfitted with double-stack cardboard boxes. When the cart was full, she took it to the car and came back for more.

I think I spent $200, maybe more. There were a lot of plants to plant, but fortunately, I had already done spring cleanup in the garden and had spaces all ready to accept new residents. I got pretty much everything into the ground within a day, the rest in pots on my patio. And has it paid off! I’ve cut many beautiful flowers this year, many more than ever before.

I used to leave most blooms in the garden, once in awhile judiciously selecting a few to cut. But I’ve learned to bring them inside. Flowers look different inside, maybe because the lighting is different, or because I’m sitting right there with them in front of me on the table. I can see every detail.

I put flowers in vases on my kitchen table and on the window sill, on the fireplace mantel, and often on the bathroom vanity, and every time I see them, I love them. I love their colors and shapes, their substance, the petals and the centers. Why, I almost crawl inside them.

I cut flowers early in the morning while it is still cool and choose the newest, youngest blooms. I try to get them before any insects eat holes in the petals but I’m not always successful. Especially this summer, I’ve had trouble with many different bugs eating both flowers and leaves. Sometimes I find them deep inside the flower centers.

Early spring bouquets are usually smallish: one or two gorgeous yellow, crisp petaled daffodils; or half a dozen blue-purple grape hyacinths; or plum branches dotted with still-closed, tiny, pink bud balls; or a single slender, pointed Pacifica iris bud. Any one of these easily takes my breath away.

Alstromeria bouquets come next in late spring. My friend Martha gave me an alstromeria plant a year or two ago, one with deep red-pink flowers and yellow throats. I planted it on the side of a hill in full sun, but haven’t done anything special for it, not fed it, only provided water. This plant is spectacular. I’d estimate that I’ve picked (actually, Martha instructed me to pull stems out from the root ball, not cut them, and I have obeyed) maybe 30 dozen flowering stems so far this year.

The plant is still in full bloom in August, the stems so long that I have had to devise various methods of propping them up. Alstromerias are such good cut flowers (probably why they are very popular with florists) that after about a week and a half, I’m tired of looking at them, and toss them.

And then there are the hydrangeas, long-stemmed balls of white. I bring in big arm loads full of these airy-look flowers that are, it turns out, quite sturdy and will last for a week or more in water. Some have reaching-star flowers popping from the center flowers. Others are in ball formation made up of many smaller 5-petal flowers.

For hydrangeas, I pound the stems with a small hammer, and this works on most but mysteriously, not all. Some wilt and nothing I do makes for recovery. I use Floralife flower food in all my vases, and I think it does extend their life.

The dahlias, oh my, the dahlias have been so beautiful, the colors incredibly deep and rich. There are lots of different dahlias; they hardly look as if they are related. I bought and planted this spring star-shaped dahlias, small and medium sized daisy-look dahlias, bigger fluffy-ruffly dahlias, cactus-quill-like dahlias. Deep cerise and real red, clear true-yellow, tangerine and orange together in the same flower, and one amazing purple dahlia.

The purple one is bright purple, about the same color as “red” cabbage leaves. I actually found it, not at the garden show from the dahlia growers, but at RiteAid in Orinda for $12. What luck! I’m hoping to divide the tubers so I will have more than one clump blooming next year.

Many times this summer I’ve walked through the garden with a bucket of water to cut dahlias and whatever else I wanted to gaze upon up close, to live with inside. Orange dahlias and deep pink dahlias, white asters and long skinny stems of hot-pink lythrum. Palest pink tutu-like fluffy-petaled dahlias, a red rose or two, tall, purple verbena, cordovan-red scabiosa. I take my bucket of treasure back to the kitchen and place them, one by one, in a vase.

And now, in early August, the white phlox are in bloom, several beautiful tall stands of them. I’ve divided them from the original plant over the years and planted the divisions in different areas of my garden. These perennial phlox make excellent cut flowers. I cut dozens of stems, strip the leaves off the lower stems, and often enjoy them alone – all white, no color added. Pure, beautiful pleasure.

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